By Tanner Kent
Free Press Staff Writer
The Betsy and Tacy homes are going national.
Unofficially, the houses made famous by Maud Hart Lovelace have been literary landmarks for years. The Mankato-based Betsy-Tacy Society, which has owned and offered tours in the homes for the past decade and works to preserve Lovelace heritage, has a nationwide membership of more than 1,000 people. Last year, the national Betsy-Tacy convention was in Mankato.
But, now it’s official:
The childhood homes of Maud Hart Lovelace (Betsy house) and her best friend Frances Kenney (Tacy house) will be designated as National Literary Landmarks during a local ceremony May 20.
“We’re pretty proud of this,” said Julie Schrader, executive director of the Betsy-Tacy Society.
The designation does not come with any additional funding. In fact, the Besty-Tacy Society pursued a grant from the Traverse des Sioux Library System to pay for the bronze plaques that must be placed at each home to proclaim their landmark status.
But Jennifer Rath, marketing director of Mankato’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the designation is important if only for the added attention.
Rath said the Betsy-Tacy homes continue to be major tourist draws for Mankato and that their placement on the list of literary landmarks will only widen their appeal.
“These books have such a following,” Rath said. “It’s another way to put Mankato in people’s minds.”
But the designation isn’t only for tourists.
Sue Beilke is a teacher at Mount Olive Lutheran School in Mankato and teaches the first book in the Betsy-Tacy series to her second-grade classes (although she added that she is filling in with a kindergarten class this year).
Beilke said she would wait until spring to start the Betsy-Tacy unit so that her class could tour the homes, walk around the neighborhood and get a sense of the local history in Lovelace’s work.
“The books come alive,” Beilke said. “Every child in Mankato should read them.”
Earning a place on the registry puts Lovelace in pretty lofty literary company.
The registry comprises about 100 sites across the country and includes such locations as 891 Post St., the San Francisco apartment building where famed mystery writer Dashiell Hammett lived while writing “The Maltese Falcon”; several public libraries, including one that houses the papers of Revolution-era radical Thomas Paine; and residences of many notable American authors, including the birthplace of Pearl S. Buck in West Virginia, the estate where Frederick Douglass died in Washington, D.C., and the lifelong home of William Carlos Williams in New Jersey.
The only other Minnesota location on the list is 481 Laurel Ave. in St. Paul, the birthplace of “The Great Gatsby” author F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“We wanted to have a way to mark our literary heritage across America,” said Sally Reed, executive director of the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations — the organization that began the registry in 1986..
“We really have a wonderful, eclectic variety of landmarks.”